This year my goal has been to be as hands on as possible with my food. That's meant foraging, fishing, processing meat from sustainable sources, gardening, canning and so on. Recently more data has come to light about different fats and their benefits. For the longest time things like lard were presented as unhealthy sources of fat by people wanting to promote their new invention, Crisco, to the masses as a healthy alternative. The reality is that from a scientific perspective, the higher burn point of oils like lard make them less carcinogenic. Basically, if oil burns, you're going to have a bad time. Lard from free ranging animals is also more nutrient dense and specifically has vitamin D in it, something that we don't get enough of in the winter time so I thought it might be time to start adding a little more lard use in my cooking. I asked my local butcher for some pig fat for making lard and adding to meat for sausage making (that'll be in the next post) and he came through with 10 LBS of quality Berkshire bacon ends for me to use.
To start, when handling pork fat, there's a few rules. Keep it mostly frozen. The warmer it gets, the harder it is to handle. My friend let it thaw just slightly before getting it to me and I kept it outside when it was 32 degrees outside until processing because the box wouldn't fit in my fridge very easily. I took the cold fat and cut off a workable size that would fit on the cutting board and cubed it into approximately 1" cubes. I wish I'd made it smaller but more on that later. In the process of cutting up the bacon ends I realized there was actually a decent amount of meat still hanging out on the edges so that was all trimmed off for curing. I needed 6 Lbs of fat for making sausages, and after a 2 Lbs of belly was removed I was left with 2Lbs to make lard with. After cubing I tossed the fat into my trusty dutch oven, put it on a low heat and let it cook. I opened it up to stir occasionally because I'd basically filled the pot up and the bottom cooked faster than the top. It took a lot longer than the info I'd seen online about cooking down fat for lard. Most articles and recipes stated you need 2 hours. I needed closer to 8 to extract all the goodness from the solids so I'm not sure where they're getting their numbers from. Also I think if I'd have made the chunks a bit smaller I'd have had an easier time. At about 4 hours in, I poured off most of the liquid and cooked the chunks even further and broke them up as much as I could to get the insides cooked further and ended up getting about another 3 quarts from that bit. I filled up 6 or 7 jars from the 2 LBS of fat which is a nice output.
Now, making your own lard isn't for the faint of heart mostly because your kitchen will smell like lard. I don't mind the smell of strong foods in my house or on my clothes but some of you might opt to just buy a jar from your local butcher. Personally the savings are enough to make it worth it, plus I can choose where the fat comes from and see how it's handled. That for me is worth all the effort in the world.